Why You Shouldn’t Buy Groceries at Drugstores

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The weekly ads for drugstore chains like CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens are loaded with special deals and discounts. These stores have also expanded the selection of groceries stocked in the aisles, hoping to entice consumers into gathering food basics at the drugstore rather than the supermarket. But is it wise to take one-stop shopping trips to the drugstore?

Based on the recent shopping ventures of Edgar Dworsky, founder and editor of Consumer World (and proud cheapskate), the answer is a definitive no.

Dworsky did some price-comparison shopping for 25 standard grocery items—Planters peanuts, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, etc.—at three drugstores and three supermarkets in the Boston area. The average total at the drugstores was $102.94, compared to $75.60 at the supermarkets. The priciest drugstore was Rite Aid ($107.96). A shopper would have saved roughly $40 by hitting the grocery store with the least expensive total, Market Basket ($68.55).

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So is it always a bad idea to buy groceries at drugstores? Not for shoppers who find that the convenience of drugstores (or quickie-mart type convenience stores, for that matter) outweighs the higher prices. Also, not for the savvy shoppers who purchase strategically at drugstores—sometimes, individual products are cheaper there—and who maximize these stores’ reward programs to their best advantage.

Jeffrey Strain, who blogs at Grocery Coupon Guide and once lived on a food budget of $100 for 100 days (with the help of many, many coupons), is a huge fan of strategically using sales, loyalty programs, and coupons for the gathering of food on the cheap at drugstores. Others recommend playing the “drugstore game” in order to snag tons of discounts, including what amounts to free toothpaste and other staples.

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The trick, if you want to call it that, is to never pay full price through the use of coupons, sales, and reward program bonuses. If, on the other hand, you just show up at the drugstore and blindly round up what you need without regard to price or promotions, you’re all but guarantee to pay far more than a comparable trip to the supermarket.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.